The Homecoming
by Paul Murgatroyd



Tom Ridd trudged along the path leading to his cottage, praying that his lovely wife had remained steadfast and true and hadn’t despaired of him, thinking his long absence meant that he was dead. He had gone to town one day, to buy her a present of ribbons for her beautiful hair, and had been taken by a press-gang. He woke up on the deck of a man-of-war, far out to sea, with a sore head. Thanks to a watchful bosun it was more than three years before he managed to jump ship, in the West Indies, and it took him almost another two years to get back to England. What kept him going all that time was raw love and a glowering determination to get back to his Jenny.


As he neared the cottage, he relished the sight of the home he hadn’t seen for so long; but he also felt a mounting anxiety. Tom wondered if he should knock, but then thought no, this was his home. He strode up to the door, then paused, with his big, leathery hand poised beside the latch and trembling slightly. He held his breath, wondering if she was inside waiting for him or had married someone else and gone away. He knew how much she loved him, and she had always been a devoted wife, but she was a tender young creature and she might have lost heart and grown lonely in the course of all those years. Most women would.


Tom lifted the latch and gave the door a little push. It swung open silently and he peeped in. He could hardly believe his eyes. Jenny was there, sitting in her chair by the hearth. He gazed in delight at the glossy black hair flowing down to her shoulders, her silky cheek, those soft, soft lips and her dainty hands and feet. If anything, she looked even prettier than when he last saw her – her hair had grown thicker and her bosom fuller. But her head was drooping, and there were tears in her eyes.


‘Hello, my lovely,’ he murmured.


She jerked, saw him and squealed: ‘Tom, Tom! I knew you’d come. I’ve been waiting for you. So long.’


Then she fell on him. She flung herself into his brawny arms, almost knocking him off his feet, and kissed him over and over again, stroking his face, staring into his eyes and weeping tears of happiness now. His heart cavorted from joy. He thought himself the luckiest man on earth, back again with his dear, dear wife. And then she pulled him down to the floor and made frantic love to him.


Afterwards she pressed bread and cheese on him, and lots of cider, and they chatted on and on about how much they had missed each other and what they’d been doing for the last five years. Finally with a smouldering smile she led him to bed and spurred him on to a night of wild passion, telling him how much she wanted him, her big, strong man, and crying out for more and more.


In the morning Tom woke up late, to find her side of the bed empty. That was odd, and disappointing. He called ‘Jen’ but there was no reply. Tom called again, louder, but her name was swallowed by the silence. He sat up and looked round for her. He couldn’t see her. But he could see collapsed ashes in the fireplace, dust furring the window, and husks of insects in a cobweb between the back legs of her chair. That was also odd, as she always kept the cottage very clean and tidy. And then he realized that the bedding felt damp and smelled of must. He jumped up, pulled on his shirt and breeches and hurried off to see if she was outside. Tom couldn’t spot her anywhere. He walked round the cottage a couple of times, staring up the path and across the flat fields that stretched far away, but he saw only a landscape of desolation.


Tom was perplexed and began to worry that something had happened to Jenny. He prayed that nothing had. It would be unbearable to be parted from her right after being reunited at last. He suddenly wondered if she had gone to their neighbours Sarah and Gabriel, maybe to borrow some food for breakfast, and he ran to their cottage down in the dell. Sarah answered the door, and was surprised and pleased to see that Tom was still alive. But when he asked if Jenny was there, she winced and her shoulders sagged. She explained that Jenny pined away out of longing for him and died only a few weeks earlier.


Tom took a step back, stunned at the news. He didn’t know what to make of his meeting with his wife in their cottage. He stumbled off, shaking his head in puzzlement. It had been his Jenny, as loving and comely as ever. He had spoken to her and touched her. How could she have been there if she was long dead? It wasn’t possible.


Then it came to him. It must have been Jenny’s spirit. She loved him so much that after she died she stayed there waiting for him to come back , so she could be reunited with him once more. Tears came to his eyes and he mumbled: ‘Ah, Jen love.’ He’d been with a ghost, but he wasn’t disturbed by that. Instead he was touched by her devotion: his darling Jen had given him one last time together with her to remember and cherish for the rest of his life. He walked back to their cottage sighing and wiping his eyes.


When he opened the door, she was there, standing in front of her chair, grinning. Tom started, then felt a surge of relief. He smiled and said delightedly: ‘Jen, sweetheart, thank god you’re back. I don’t want to be parted from you ever again. I know you’re only a spectre, but stay with me, I want to be with you for the rest of my days.’


As he started towards her, she halted him by sneering and saying: ‘I am no spectre, sir.’


He frowned. ‘But Sarah said you died. Pined away for me.’


‘Your wife died.’


‘But aren’t you her spirit?’


‘Numskull. I’ve told you. No.’


‘Then what are you?’


‘A demon. One with a taste for savage amusement.’


‘A demon?’


‘Specifically a succubus,’ she hissed, and abruptly expanded, becoming a couple of feet taller and towering over him.


He paled and gasped. ‘A what? What’s a succubus?’


Her pupils doubled, and she twisted her lips into a malignant smirk. In a voice that did not sound human she said: ‘It’s a demon that lies with a man to get his seed…And I got lots of yours.’


Tom recoiled. Then he asked: ‘What did you want my seed for?’


‘Why, to engender a cambion, of course.’


‘A cambion?’


She cackled. ‘Ha! The dolt doesn’t know what a cambion is either. Well, let me tell you, my dear, dear husband…A cambion is an uncanny, unearthly being, a creature of supreme evil, distinguished by sundry deformities – like cauliflower hands, a bulging corkscrew spine, and triple rows of teeth full of black death…But your spawn is even more monstrous than that. Truly. See!’


She smiled and stepped aside to let him catch sight of the thing on the chair that she’d been blocking from his view.


Tom looked on his son and fainted.



a line


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